Newcastle manager Adam O’Brien insists negotiations with Kalyn Ponga remain on track, denying a report that a contract extension has been taken off the table.
The star full-back easily enjoyed his best game of the season in the Knights’ controversial 21-16 loss to St George Illawarra on Sunday, scoring one try and setting up another.
But that came overshadowed by claims he was set to leave the club, with the Daily Telegraph reporting that an extension for the club’s biggest name had been withdrawn.
Ponga has a contract with Newcastle for the next two years, but has the option to leave at the end of this season if he wishes.
The Knights are believed to be trying to extend that deal well beyond the end of 2024, with Ponga expected to make an appeal before Round 12.
O’Brien laughed off the claims, pointing to confusion that the club had also been linked with Cameron Munster.
“I was never once spoken to as head coach (that the contract was cancelled),” O’Brien said.
“Absolutely new to me, as far as I know. Our CEO (Phil Gardner) isn’t even in the country, he’s in Hawaii.
“I think they’re still going through their process, both sides. Kalyn’s leadership and the Knights. Things are progressing there…”
Ponga was also adamant that he had the right to take his time in making his decision.
“I know how I feel, but it’s between me and my management,” Ponga said.
“I know you want to know what I’m doing.
“I hope you respect that I want to make this decision on my terms and announce it on my terms. So that’s what I will do.”
Either way, Ponga at least showed he wasn’t distracted by the ongoing negotiations on Sunday.
Poor by his standards in the previous two weeks since returning from a knee injury, the 24-year-old was clearly the Knights’ best on Sunday.
He set up their first try when he rebounded and smashed his way across the line for Enari Tuala to score, and put one of his own after a bust from Bradman Best.
“I think he showed tonight why he was worth the wait,” O’Brien said.
“With the short execution times, four in a row (the knee) would have absolutely bothered him.
“You’re recovering from a game and I don’t want to push it too hard in training to be with the team and connect.
“But his performance today, I thought he was by far the best player on the pitch.”
Australian Associated Press